Old Fashioned Chocolate Birthday Cake – Gluten and Dairy Free

IMG_20160711_181722547I have a deep love of old fashioned birthday cakes. By old fashioned, I mean cakes that invoke memories of boxed mixes and the old Dominoes’ butter cream frosting recipe that had salt in it. I used to make chocolate infused versions full of dairy and wheat. Now I can’t eat gluten, and some of my kids can’t eat dairy. For years, I didn’t have a birthday cake. Now I do. The omnivores in the family say it’s awfully close to the “real thing”. After all these years, I don’t remember what the “real thing” tasted like, but my kids are painfully honest about food, so I believe them.

This recipe uses the gluten-free flour described here. My husband, who created this recipe, measures by weight, not volume. He uses 280 grams, which is about 2 cups plus 1/4 cup . This recipe makes two a standard 9-inch round two-layer cake or 24 cupcakes. The recipe for the icing is at the bottom.

CHOCOLATE CAKE

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 and 2/3 cups of sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups of flour (280 grams)
  • 2/3 cups of cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons of xanthan gum
  • 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2/3 cup of dairy-free margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 and 1/3 cup of water

Set the margarine on a counter until it reaches room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prep your cake pans or cupcake pans as you prefer. (We use parchment paper for the cake pans and liners for the cupcake pans.)

Whisk the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt) in a bowl until they are evenly mixed.

Mix the wet ingredients EXCEPT the water (margarine, eggs, vanilla) in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer for three minutes. You can’t really cream it (as you can with butter), but get it thoroughly mixed. If you don’t have a mixer, use a fork and really go at it for a couple of minutes.

Add the dry ingredients alternating with the water into the wet ingredients a bit at a time. Use the mixer on low or use a large spoon. Once they are all combined, you will end up with a lovely cake batter.

For 2-layer cake:

  • The batter doesn’t flow as easily as regular batter, so once it is in the pan, you might need to shake it to get it to lay down.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  Sometimes this recipe will take more than 35 minutes. Test the cakes with a toothpick until it comes out clean.
  • Let the cakes cool in the pan before you remove them.

For 24 cupcakes:

  • Use a large spoon and measure out equal dollops.
  • Bake for 23 to 25 minutes. Test with a toothpick until it comes out clean.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM (except not really) FROSTING

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 pound dairy-free margarine
  • 4 cups of confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • up to 1/4 cup of water

Set the margarine out on the counter to let it soften. Heat or microwave the unsweetened chocolate until just melted. Use a beater to mix the margarine, confectioners sugar, salt, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate, then add the sugar a little bit at a time. Beat the mixture till smooth.  If you need a smoother consistency, add water until it is reached. Spread on the cake or cupcakes immediately.

 

Dairy Free Chocolate and “Butter” Cream Easter Eggs

IMG_20160326_173914540Buying Easter candy that is safe for people with dairy, nuts, and peanut allergies is hard.  So much chocolate-y or creamy candy isn’t okay. When I was growing up, my favorite Easter candy was the butter creme eggs made by a local church that came in flavors. Last year I had the “duh” moment of realizing that we could make these safely for our kids in vanilla, chocolate and maple.

This recipe is based on a thoroughly unsafe for dairy allergies recipe at The Abundant Wife.  It’s similar to what I ate as a child, and I was grateful to have it to use as a base.  This recipe will make five eggs.  Below are the ingredients for Vanilla, Chocolate and Maple flavors. They are all made using the same process, which is at the bottom of the post.

Vanilla Cream Egg Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1/8 lb softened non-dairy Margarine (we used Fleischmann’s Unsalted – the Salted has dairy)
  • 1 Tbsp Water
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla
  • 6 oz non-dairy Chocolate Chips (we use Divvies)

Chocolate Cream Egg Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1/8 lb softened non-dairy Margarine (we used Fleischmann’s Unsalted – the Salted has dairy)
  • 1 Tbsp Water
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla
  • 4 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
  • 6 oz non-dairy Chocolate Chips (we use Divvies)

Maple Cream Egg Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb Confectioner’s Sugar
  • 1/8 lb softened non-dairy Margarine (we used Fleischmann’s Unsalted – the Salted has dairy)
  • 2 Tbsp Maple Syrup
  • 6 oz non-dairy Chocolate Chips (we use Divvies)

 

Directions

IMG_20160326_180118036_HDRIn a bowl, mix the sugar into the softened margarine, as well as any additional ingredients except the chocolate chips. Mix until a consistency that can be molded into eggs.  Place in the refrigerator to cool.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips.  At this point you have two choices.IMG_20160326_181359094

  • If you want, you can simply cover the filling with chocolate by pouring it on one side, chilling it, flipping it over, and chilling it again.
  • If you want fancier eggs, get a silicon mold in the shape of eggs.  We use this one. Paint the interior of the molds generously with chocolate using a brush. You want a strong shell. Insert the filling gently while the chocolate is soft. Chill in the fridge.  IMG_20160326_165022728Once the chocolate is solid, remove the half eggs and place back in the fridge.  Wash the mold and paint generously again with chocolate.  Insert the half eggs into the molds and press very gently to create a seal. Chill in the fridge until the chocolate in the mold is solid and the eggs can be safely removed.

If you want, you can decorate the eggs.  Otherwise, just eat and enjoy.

Passion vs. Skills in a Nonprofit

IMG_20160315_114427Recently I listened to a kerfuffle about how much money a nonprofit needed. The organization is pretty stripped down and runs on minimal staffing with maximum volunteer labor. Some members argued the organization could run on almost all volunteer labor and a smaller budget if it restructured. The comments reminded me of a break-out session at a conference I attended.

The session was filled with development staff for arts organizations. Most of them were young, dewy eyed, and barely making a living wage probably. A couple of us old wizened types were in the room. The moderator asked which was more important in the fundraising work – passion or skills. All the young ones raised their hands for passion. Us oldsters raised our hands for skills.

Saying that a nonprofit can get by on passion or volunteers is a bit like a couple telling each other they can live on love. If times are good and luck goes their way, they might survive. They might even thrive. If not, then the couple is going to have problems and so is the organization.

This perception that an organization should be able to get by on less seems to be particularly strong in small nonprofits that rely heavily on volunteer labor. Often these nonprofits were started by all volunteers or had one underpaid maniacal person who did much of the work. That may not be a sustainable model. Here’s some reasons why.

  • Fatigue – While an idea is fresh and the passion is new, people rally around a cause. Eventually many of the people doing the hard work wear out, move on, or even pass away. Alternatively, the organization may grow too large for the volunteers to manage without exhausting themselves. At this point the organization needs more competent volunteers and may not get them because of…
  • Half Solved Problems – A nonprofit exists to solve problems or meet needs. If the initial flurry of activity solved the need or problem permanently, that’s great. But what if it was only solved partway or maintenance is needed for it to stay solved? A half solved problem isn’t as obvious or compelling as the unsolved one. The organization will get less donors, attract fewer volunteers, and lose momentum. A solution exists, but it won’t be found without…
  • Strategic Planning – Determining a course to re-energize a nonprofit can be complicated. The clear vision of the need and how to address it that started the organization has morphed with time and half solved problems. Someone has to decide the steps to take to best service the clientele. In order to do this, that someone needs to have…
  • Experience – Anyone can run a small nonprofit, right? Just look at the PTO at your neighborhood school. That would be the same PTO that is alternately reviled and adored by parents as a horrible clique, overstepping beggars, and saintly volunteers. Running a serious nonprofit – no matter what the size – requires management, financial, and visionary skills. If an organization is going to be fast and flexible in response to whatever gets thrown its way, then it needs someone who has the power to make decisions. Finding that person requires…
  • Money – We no longer live in an era filled with single wage earner families and a wildly competent spouse who is desperate to fill their time with good works. Wildly competent people expect to be paid for their work. Furthermore, a volunteer can shuffle a job to one side if life gets complicated. Management by a committee of volunteers is a great way to have an organization move slowly. A paid staff person must make the work a priority. If you want a responsive leader with skills, you need to pay for them.

There are exceptions. Some nonprofits can get by without paid staff. Maybe they only run one large event per year, and it is so high profile that volunteers flock to the group. Maybe there is a constant turnover of enthusiastic volunteers like an elementary school PTO. But what about the other nonprofits?

In general, nonprofit work is a long slog through scrambling for funding, grumpy people, and impossible situations to solve with inadequate resources. When the number of nonprofits went up exponentially compared to the available funding, that slog got harder. A decently paid and large enough staff enables an organization to make a plan, execute it, and communicate with their clientele. A happier clientele means more support for the organization. It’s cyclical. Without one, it is hard to have the other.

Staff and operating expenses are incredibly unsexy overhead items. They’re hard to get funding to support. To many people, staff time and operating expenses appear as unnecessary as whatever the Wizard was doing behind the curtain in the Emerald City. The Wizard may have been pulling a fast one over the denizens of Oz, but nonprofits are not. Passion alone is not sustainable or effective. Nonprofits require skilled staff if they are to thrive.

 

Not My Strawberry Bread & Lemon Brownies

There are two deserts we make that people adore and we didn’t invent. We simply adapted recipes on the web so they would be gluten free and dairy free.  Moister deserts, especially ones with fruit as a main component, frequently adapt well. I’m including the links with tweaks here.  So everyone who wants to know how to make these – here you go.

Lemon Brownies – We make two changes to this recipe.  The first is that I use our gluten-free soy/corn/tapioca flour.  The other is using Fleischmann’s Unsalted Margarine instead of butter.  (Pick carefully – their salted margarine has dairy.) Remember that margarine starts out softer than butter, so keep an eye on it when you set it out to soften.  Don’t let it get too soft.  The directions on this recipe are spectacular, and I advise reading them carefully.

Strawberry Bread – The major change to this recipe is substituting in our gluten-free soy/corn/tapioca flour.  It also works with our oat based flour. For oil, we use canola.  We don’t add the nuts, because we’re a nut-free household.  If you can eat them, I’m sure they’re a lovely addition.  The recipe is very simple, and it really is as easy as it reads.  If you like apples, a friend experimented and discovered that it works nicely with moister apples like McIntosh.

More recipes can be found here

Blueberry Muffins – Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free

IMG_3284Baking muffins started as a weekend tradition because of my children with food allergies.  It was too hard to find muffins free of cross contamination in a store.  When I had to go gluten free, I figured my days of sharing in that tradition were done.  However, my husband came up with a recipe that tastes – and just as importantly – feels like an excellent blueberry muffin.

 

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup (or 105 grams) gluten free flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • IMG_32701 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup blueberries

IMG_3273Preheat the over to 350 degrees.  Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.  Beat the wet ingredients together in their own bowl until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until smooth. The batter does not act like gluten muffin batter.  This photo shows how it should look.

IMG_3281Fold the blueberries into the batter. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.  Drop the batter into the liners until it reaches the top.  Do not smooth the batter down.  Bake for 22 – 26 minutes They are done when a toothpick comes out cleanly.

More recipes can be found here.

IMG_3298

 

Why Did You Write That Email?

DearHave you written an email to the SCA, one of its officers, or any other nonprofit? Did you ask yourself why you wrote that email before you hit send? More specifically, what were you trying to achieve?

In my post about appreciating people, I suggested that officers acknowledge every email even if it was just with a form response. I got a response to my post that sometimes a form email generates complaints from angry people, who are upset that they didn’t get a personal response. Because of this, some officers stopped using form email acknowledgments. Consequently, they weren’t acknowledging the emails they received at all.

Let’s not look at what the officers are doing. That was the prior post. Let’s look at the complaining people who are making the officers dread their email. Why did those people write? What were they trying to achieve? Odds are good that they didn’t achieve it.

An email exchange is hard to visualize. It’s people sitting behind their keyboards. Let’s visualize it a different way. You are on one side of a bar door. The potential email recipients are already in the bar. You’re about to open that door and look for a conversation. Even if you haven’t walked into in a bar before, you’ve seen it happen in a movie. So open that door and walk inside.

There’s a whole lot of email addresses sitting on those stools and a bartender behind the taps. Where are you going to sit? Ignore your social anxiety – these are emails and not really people. Why are you here? Do you want someone to listen? Are you hoping for sympathy, an argument or help fixing a problem? Do you want a meaningful relationship or a flirtation? If you aren’t clear on what you want, then how are you going to pick the right bar stool or the right email address?

A nonprofit usually has a number of email addresses that you can use. Options may include a general email address, an issue specific one, or the people who work/volunteer for it. Maybe you think any of those email addresses should get you the response you want because a well run organization should answer every email and tend to every member’s needs. You are assuming a world full of large budgets and ample staffing, which doesn’t exist. Email is easy and cheap to write, so organizations may receive an overwhelming amount, especially if something controversial is happening. There isn’t time to answer all of them.

Writing to a general email address is like trying to talk to the bartender on a busy Saturday night. Expect a nod and your drink, in other words a form email response. That’s all there’s time for him to do. Maybe if you just want to have your voice counted that is enough.

Suppose you want to create change? You have an idea to suggest or a problem that needs solving. Then you are looking for a meaningful relationship. How do you do that? Write emails to specific people. Ask questions so you learn about them and the organization. Listen as well as talk. Don’t yell. Maybe those people won’t have time to write to you, but maybe they will. You just need to find that one person or several people to start the process.

If what you want is to vent and get sympathy, then let’s face the hard facts. If you yell, you may not get the response you want no matter what email address you use. If you yelled at a person sitting on a bar stool, would you expect them to continue to listen and answer you reasonably? No. If the organization has ample funds and good member services, then you might get a personal, reasonable answer. However, remember that those well funded organizations are rare in the nonprofit world.

So ask these questions before you hit send on that email. Why am I sending this email? What do I hope to achieve? Picking the right bar stool and opening line won’t guarantee the answer you want, but it will increase your odds.

Brownies – Gluten Free, Dairy Free and Useful for Bribes

IMG_3205I hesitate to share this recipe. A guy once offered to have my husband’s babies because of these brownies. (Yes, it was a guy. ) I have used them as barter. People love them. It’s a useful recipe to keep to yourself. However, it is the season for giving. Maybe you have a gluten or dairy free chocolate lover who would enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup gluten free flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum (if not in flour already)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup water (if using soy flour mix)
IMG_3176
Ingredients for a double batch ready to mix

Mix together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cocoa powder until well mixed.  (The quality of the cocoa will affect the brownies. The better the cocoa, the richer the brownies. I’m lucky to have a Penzeys near my house. Use your favorite cocoa powder, but remember that it makes a difference.)

IMG_3179
Liquid ingredients in motion and at the right consistency

Enthusiastically beat the vanilla, vegetable oil, and eggs until the mixture starts to thicken.  You want to beat enough air into the liquid ingredients that they start to have a little bit of texture.  See the photo for how they should look in motion (not at rest).

IMG_3185
Batter using soy flour before water is added

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat with either a wooden spoon or two metal spoons doubled up.  The batter is going to get thick if you are using the soy flour, so you want a strong spoon.  Also if you are using the soy flour, the batter will look like this photo, and at this point you add the water. If you are using wheat flour or our oat based flour, then you won’t need to add water.

IMG_3190
Batter properly mixed

Continue to mix until the batter is smooth and moist, as shown in this picture.  (Again, if you aren’t using the soy flour, then the batter should look this way without the addition of water.) Gently fold in one cup of chocolate chips.  We use Divvies.  If you need to worry about soy allergies, Enjoy Life makes dairy and soy free chocolate chips.

IMG_3193
Consistency of batter heading into the pan

Pour the batter into a greased 8″ x 8″ or 9″x 9″ pan.  Use a wet spoon to distribute the batter and smooth the top, but do not push down.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  (Remember if you hit a chocolate chip, it will not come out clean.  That doesn’t matter.  You’re just worried about the batter.)  This recipe can be doubled.  If you are using a 9″ x 13″ pan, bake it 35-40 minutes.

IMG_3200Cool for at least 20 minutes in the pan before slicing.  If you cut them sooner, the brownies will crumble much more.  A little bit of time makes a huge difference.  Cut with a sharp knife and remove with a spatula.  Eat them, share them, or offer as bribes.

More c0oking blog posts can be found here if you are interested in other recipes.